The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Carthage, Jasper County

July 6, 2007

State patrol: Cocaine haul seized from truck on I-44

By Jeff Lehr

jlehr@joplinglobe.com

The Missouri State Highway Patrol discovered a cache of cocaine Thursday in a semi-truck at the Joplin weigh station on Interstate 44, one day before a New Jersey man caught passing through Jasper County in March with more than 10 pounds of heroin pleaded guilty in federal court.

Another month, another big drug bust on I-44, what law enforcement officials consider one of the principal corridors for drug trafficking in the United States.

“Something just wasn’t right,” Sgt. Kent Casey of the state patrol said Friday of a commercial vehicle enforcement officer’s suspicions regarding an eastbound truck driver who was stopped at the weigh station for a fuel tax violation at 6:05 p.m. Thursday.

The officer called for a state trooper and the trooper obtained consent from the driver to search his semi-truck for drugs or weapons, Casey said.

Under the bottom bunk in the sleeper compartment of the truck’s cab, the trooper allegedly found a large duffel bag containing about 24 kilo-sized bundles of cocaine. Casey said the bundles had been covered in axle grease and wrapped tightly in cellophane to inhibit detection by drug-sniffing dogs. He said those who transport drugs across the country by vehicles often use axle grease, coffee grounds, dryer sheets and other materials in an effort to mask the smell.

The driver, identified as Barrios Benjamin Perez, 46, of San Diego, was arrested on suspicion of first-degree trafficking in drugs, Casey said. Perez was taken to the Greene County Jail in Springfield, and the case was turned over to Drug Enforcement Administration agents for pursuit of federal charges.

Casey said investigators remain uncertain where Perez may have picked up the shipment.

“He’s not telling us that, and he’s not telling us where he was going,” he said.

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Carthage, Jasper County
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